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The anticipatory bail plea preferred by actor-turned-politician, Kamal Haasan following his controversial remarks concerning Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, has prompted the Madras High Court to highlight that religion should not be linked with criminals, including terrorists. While allowing Haasan’s plea for anticipatory bail, Justice B Pugalendhi emphasised,
“A person, becomes a criminal by his behaviour and not by his birth. Identifying a criminal with a religion, caste or race would definitely develop hatered among the people.”
In passing the order, the Court was also critical of the media’s role in the propagation of controversial statements, including hate speech.
The Tamil speech that sparked off the present controversy had been made by Kamal Haasan on May 12 during electoral campaigns in the Aravakuruchi Constituency. Loosely translated, Haasan had commented that the first extremist in independent India is a Hindu, who is Nathuram Godse.
A criminal complaint was lodged against Haasan, two days later stating that Haasan’s comment had stoked public hatred. Sections 295 and 153A of the Indian Penal Code were cited. Kamal Haasan had initially approached the High Court to quash the FIR. However, the plea was rejected, stating that such matters could not be taken up during the Court vacation. He then filed an anticipatory bail plea before the High Court. In his submissions, he stood by his controversial statement and argued that the same was a historical observation that was taken out of context.
The Court also noted that,
“The petitioner [Kamal Haasan], before referring to Nathuram Godse, has insisted for communal harmony and reiterated terrorism in general from any religion cannot be accepted.“
All the same, Justice Pugalendhi proceeded to caution,
“Even if it is a historical event, if it is not made in a proper context, then it is an offence.”
In a later part of the order, it is also observed,
“A small spark can light a lamp as well as destroy a forest. What is required for the audience, in the election meeting, is a constructive solution for uplifting the common man. Our country has already witnessed several incidents pursuant to public speech.“
The Court also cited Thirukural verses to reiterate the importance of time and place when making any comment. In this regard, the judge cited two verses loosely translated as follows:
“… let the good who know the uses of words speak with a clear knowledge after ascertaining the time and the audience… Speak what is useful and speak not useless words.”
Another argument made on behalf of Haasan was that he had only referred to Godse as an “extremist”, and not as a “terrorist” contrary to general public impression. It was pointed out that there was a difference between the two – an extremist being one who is firm on his ideology. However, the term was misinterpreted on translation since the Tamil dictionary gives a similar meaning to an ‘Extremist’ and a ‘Terrorist’. Regardless of such distinction, the Court observed that religion should ideally not be linked to any class of criminal.
“Whether it is a fundamentalist, terrorist or an extremist, let them not be defined by their religion race, place of birth, residence and language of a person.”
The Court proceeded to observe that hate speech has become a common affair.
“Recently, hate speech becomes a common affair. Even before this Court yet another application was filed for seeking Anticipatory Bail by a woman for having compared Lord Palani Murugan [to a]dog. Few months back, there was a controversy as against a leader that he defined Lord Krishna as the first rapist. Yet another Leader instigated his followers to destroy the statue of Thanthai Periyar.“
Justice Pugalendhi also expressed concern over the limelight given to such hate speech by the media. As noted in the order,
“The Media is also giving more importance to these types of hate speeches and debates are made hours together… the petitioner made his statement for once, but the media is repeating it again and again and if the petitioner is liable to be prosecuted, equally the Media.
Even in this public meeting held at Pallapatti, the petitioner made certain constructive suggestions to stop the sand mining and to promote certain native based industries. There is no discussion at all, whether it is feasible or not. The petitioner made his statement on 12.05.2019 but the discussions are not yet over.”
With these cautionary observations, the Court proceeded to allow Haasan’s plea for anticipatory bail on the execution of a bond, after holding,
“… considering the facts and circumstances of the case, viewing of the speech as a whole and considering the fact that the petitioner is a leader of a registered political party and the election process is still pending, this Court is inclined to grant anticipatory bail to the petitioner.”
Senior Advocate K Vijayan appeared for Kamal Haasan. Public Prosecutor A Natarajan argued for the State, whereas Advocate M Karunanithi argued for the de facto complainant.
Image taken from here.
Read the Order: